How a passion for plants drove the creation of a business: Guest Blog

Cornwall Plants is an online garden nursery selling plants, bulbs, seeds and accessories which they post direct to the buyer. Becky Mole is the driving force behind the business, and here she describes how she built it from scratch over the past 15 years to the point where she now sell direct from her website www.cornwallplants.com as well as online shops and – when able to – at physical shows and fairs.

Early success

Growing up around plants I caught the ‘bug’ as it were, from an early age. I would spend hours helping my mother in the garden. I remember, as a young child, taking a cutting from an Erica arborea. Completely incorrectly no doubt! However, it took, grew and still stands 30 years later.

As I grew so did my passion, not just for plants but the wonderful array of wildlife we have here in the UK. I have spent hours walking gardens big and small across the UK and Europe exploring, learning and of course daydreaming of that grand garden that we all think about.

Developing skills and knowledge

I began by selling splittings from my family garden as a side to my full time job but I found myself enjoying it so much more than anything else so I began propagating plants more and more until I gave up working for others and set my mind at building a business doing what I loved. Starting with the knowledge taught to me as I grew up, building upon this with hands on experience. Wanting to improve my skills and knowledge that much further I chose to complete a Bachelors in Horticulture, with specific research into sustainability, ecology and the importance of plants in mental health. An interesting factor, showing itself as vital during these current events. And something I will be discussing further later on.

One of the perennial borders in Cornwall Plants' nursery
One of the perennial borders with just a few of the more than 500 species raised by Becky at Cornwall Plants’ nursery

Beginnings of Cornwall Plants

Not wanting to be just another generic nursery, I set out to offer something different. A diverse range of affordable plants not typically found in the major garden centres, DIY stores and corner shops. Each plant carefully grown and potted by hand, completely avoiding the use of harmful chemicals and celebrating the wildlife around us. Space limited the ability to have visitors on site which caused the natural development of a mail / internet order company. However despite not physically meeting each buyer I strive to maintain the personal touch with the care delivered to each plant and the enjoyment of talking to customers about their queries and needs albeit digitally.

Propagating stock for sale

I certainly wouldn’t consider Cornwall Plants as a conventional nursery, now run as a family business, propagating our own stock across a couple of sites. We’re small but busy and loving it! With over 500 species of hardy perennials such as Hesperantha (crimson flag lily), groundcovers including Acaeanas (Bur), succulents, shrubs, such as Hebes and houseplants of all shapes and sizes.

Personal passion and curiosity

It’s my personal passion that drives a curiosity and therefore there is an ever growing collection of plants. Personally I enjoy the ‘weird and wonderful’ unusual species. Bizarre yet beautiful succulents such as, Crassula ‘Buddha’s Temple’ and fantastic orchids, of all shapes and sizes, which I am beginning to cross pollinate. I am constantly asked about succulent and orchid growing so will be looking at these in blogs later in the year.

Crassula ‘Buddha’s Temple’
A bizarre yet beautiful succulent, Crassula ‘Buddha’s Temple’

Sheer diversity of wildlife

As I have already alluded to, the wildlife around us is so important to myself and the team. Since setting up we’ve focused upon making the sites, as well as our private gardens, as wildlife friendly as possible whilst ensuring its still enjoyable and usable. Frankly the addition of the wildlife has made it more exciting than you may initially consider. Today I am so proud of the sheer diversity of wildlife found on our sites. With last year bringing us an ever increasing number of different song birds, butterflies & moths, bee species, so many bees in fact we have coined our Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England Aster) the ‘bee restaurant’’.

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England Aster) - an ideal plant for pollinators
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England Aster) – the ‘bee restaurant’ in Cornwall Plants’ nursery

We have even had wild leafcutters move into the glasshouses, these are such fascinating creatures and a real treat to have. The ponds have been a huge success with so many amphibians calling it home. I personally cannot wait to see what and who 2021 brings. January already treated us to a new visitor in the form of a beautiful little meadow pipit, now seemingly a regular visitor. I do intend on discussing our different residents and how to attract friendly wildlife to your own green spaces in blogs over the coming months. As well as how a healthy balance with the wildlife around us can work wonders as natural pest control.

Becky relies on a healthy balance of wildlife around the nursery to help in controlling the insects that can, if too abundant, cause damage in the garden. There are many sources of advice on non-chemical methods to protect the plants we grow, including this from the RSPB.

Natural predation – By encouraging natural predators of any specific pest into the area, the pest in question will be controlled. Ladybirds, lacewings, frogs, hedgehogs and birds are all great at limiting numbers of garden pests such as aphids and slugs.

Hand picking – although time consuming and intensive, removing areas of infestation by hand may be beneficial to the rest of the plot.

Water spraying – spraying with water or with a light soap solution has been used for some time to remove aphids and similar species from plants.

Becky has built her business by developing online sales – in contrast, Martin Pallett of Bleujyowa prefers the face-to-face approach in selling plants from his roadside Plant Stand.

Read more about Bleujyowa here.

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